Engelmann’s Prickly Pear
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Yesterday I posted a couple of images of Hedgehog Cacti in bloom. Hedgehogs are by no means rare but they are a fairly uncommon sight when I walk around the desert. I might see a handful of them in a two hour walk.
Now, here’s something that I see everywhere and that, in its own way, is just as flamboyant as are Hedgehogs. This is Engelmann’s Prickly Pear, one of the most common varieties of cactus seen in southern Arizona.
There are several species of Prickly Pear growing in Arizona but Engelmann’s Prickly Pear is the most common by far. This species grows at elevations ranging from about 1500 to about 7000 feet and just about anywhere where there is sandy soil. These cacti are ubiquitous and grow in large numbers. Walk in any direction in the desert and you’ll come across one of these cacti within a minute or two. One sees this species in the desert around Tucson, in the grasslands of Patagonia and Sonoita, and on the slopes of Mt. Lemmon. This species begins flowering in early April and will continue to bloom throughout the month. It opens one or two three-inch wide blossoms each day. The blossoms wither by evening, but there are more of them the following morning. The blossoms range in color from intense pale lemon yellow to a an orangish yellow.
Prickly Pears are important members of the desert community. Just about all parts of the plant are edible — if you can get past the spines. The plant’s large flat pads are browsed on by deer, javelina, and packrats. A Prickly Pear bears fruit in summer and fall and the fruit is both edible and highly nutritious. Just about every souvenir shop in Arizona carries Prickly Pear jelly. It’s pretty good.
Image made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting, f16 @ 1/160.